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Issues & People Miscellaneous

High Cost, No Treatment: Dental Patients in Hospital Emergency Rooms

Earlier this month, President of the Ontario Dental Association spoke with the media and reminded Ontarians that emergency rooms are too often visited by patients seeking dental care. Patients who shouldn’t be there.

61,000 ER Visits

According to a 2014 report by the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, in Ontario, patients visited the emergency room 61,000 times seeking oral treatment that should have been provided in a dental office. The most common reasons for visits: abscesses and toothaches from dental issues left unaddressed due to the cost of private, preventative dental care.

Every Nine Minutes in the ER

In fact, about one in five Canadians avoids the dentist because they cannot afford it. In Ontario, that adds up to about 2 million people who haven’t seen the dentist in at least year and results in an ER visit due to dental pain every nine minutes.

Because hospital emergency rooms do not have the necessary equipment or expertise to treat dental issues, patients usually leave with only painkillers or antibiotics. Many return to the ER or visit a physician’s office seeking treatment for the same unresolved issue while others have even resorted to pulling their own teeth.

Lack of Insurance Coverage

According to the CDA’s State of Oral Health in Canada Report:

  • 32% of Canadians have no dental insurance; 
  • 53% of adults between 60 and 79 years of age have no dental insurance and;
  • 50% of Canadians in the lower-income bracket have no dental insurance.

In 2015, the cost of an emergency room visit for a dental complaint in Ontario began at $513 costing the province at least $31 million by the end of the year. Meanwhile, patients seeking treatment for dental pain at a doctor’s offices cost the province about $7.5 million annually meaning that a lack of affordable oral healthcare costs taxpayers a minimum of $38 million. President of the ODA has recently asked that these funds be redirected to government dental programs and private clinics.

Getting Dental Patients Out of the ER

While there are no concrete plans from provincial or federal governments to extend coverage to those without dental insurance, Dr. Cory Sul, President of the Manitoba Dental Association announced in December 2018 that he has requested a meeting with the province’s Health Minister, Cameron Friesen, to discuss opening a 24/7 dental emergency department funded by Manitoba Health. Dr. Sul is hoping to work with the province to open an emergency dental facility close to the hospital and said, “Under the MDA proposal, dental ER patients would receive the same services as they would have received in the hospital ER, at no cost to them but at a significantly lower cost to the government. If Winnipeg had a dental emergency department available 24-7, it would cut down on hospital ER visits for dental issues, many of which occur during the evening and overnight, when dental offices are generally closed.”

Read the Canadian Dental Association’s Position Paper on Oral health Care for Canadians including a snapshot of Dental Usage in Canada and Access to Care Initiatives by Province

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Until next time!

CDA Oasis Team


  1. Dr. Shane Hunt March 11, 2019

    I believe that more could be accomplished for pts with dental emergencies in the ER if there was community interest from dentists to provide a rotating dentist ‘on call’ for basic assessment/treatment with referral to their office promptly for follow up. That would be one hurdle. But that won’t suffice unless there is equipment available to provide basic treatment in the ER. Having an operatory wouldn’t be cost/space effective. If there was at least a cart stocked with basics we are accustomed to -LA in carpules, some hand instruments for I&D or gross decay removal, temp filling etc then at least something could be done. The expense to hospital would be minimal and the dentist on call could ensure re stocking of supplies and maybe also get a new patient.

  2. Prabhu June 11, 2019

    Thanks for sharing the good post. It was just amazing. keep sharing new posts.


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